South Korean authorities on Saturday arrested Lee Man-hee, the powerful head of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is linked to more than 5,200 coronavirus infections, or 36% of South Korea’s total cases.
The church’s branch in the southern city of Daegu emerged as the biggest cluster in the country after infections spiked in late February.
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Prosecutors allege the 89-year-old conspired with other sect leaders to withhold information from authorities during the peak of the outbreak among his more than 200,000 followers.
Lee, who has described the novel coronavirus as the “devil’s deed” to stop the sect’s growth, allegedly hid details on members and their meeting places as authorities tried to trace infection routes in February, Yonhap news agency reported.
A young boy holds his mother’s hand from across a barrier as he returns to school for a delayed spring term in Gwangju, South Korea. The government has initiated a phased reopening of schools across the country even as it sees a surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days.
The image shows classrooms being disinfected by quarantine workers before students enter the premises of a school in Seoul. In the first phase of reopening, high school seniors returned to classes on May 20 for a session that was meant to begin in March this year.
Teachers check partition walls installed to ensure students’ safety as they return to classrooms in Daegu, South Korea. In late February, the city of Daegu reported the first large coronavirus outbreak outside of China, resulting in a huge spike in South Korea’s COVID-19 infections.
A school student is putting sanitizer on her hands after coming back to school last week. The second phase of reopening, initiated on June 3, involved students in their first year at high school and second year at middle school and in the third and fourth years in elementary school.
Students wait in line as staff conduct temperature checks with a thermal imaging camera in Chungju, South Korea. The latest phase of reopening has brought nearly 1.8 million children back to school.
Guidelines mandate that desks are placed in a manner that allows for physical distancing. In many cases, schools are putting up partitions to prevent the spread of the virus. South Korea has seen a resurgence of cases linked to gatherings at night clubs, churches and warehouses in recent days. This has led to the imposition of stricter regulations.
Transparent dividers installed at a primary school cafeteria in Chuncheon, South Korea. The Education Ministry said that 519 schools have been forced to go back to remote learning, as government guidelines direct that all students and staff members have to return to distance learning if an infection is confirmed.
A physical education class in progress with students wearing masks at a high school in Gwacheon, South Korea. In addition to regular sanitizing and multiple temperature checks between classes, students are required to keep their masks on at all times, except when they are eating.
An elementary school student being welcomed by teachers in animal costumes in Daegu. An inordinate amount of pressure for implementation lies on the shoulders of teachers, who must join the students in using an online self-diagnostic system to record their own temperatures before classes. South Korea currently has under 12,000 confirmed cases.
Lee is also suspected of embezzling about 5.6 billion won ($4.7 million) in church funds, including about 5 billion won which he allegedly used to build a retreat, Yonhap said.
A virus resurgence
Lee and his church have steadfastly denied the accusations, saying they were cooperating with health authorities. Its spokesperson, Kim Young-eun, said the church will do its best so that “the truth is clearly proved in court.”
South Korean health authorities used an aggressive test-and-quarantine program to contain the outbreak in Daegu and nearby towns by April, but the country has seen a resurgence of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area since late May.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday reported 31 newly confirmed cases. At least 23 of the, were tied to international arrivals.
sri/rc (AP, Reuters)